Day one started at a barbaric 5 am when it was still dark. We were
urged to leave anything not absolutely necessary for the trek
in the hotel to lessen the burden on the yaks. After a hasty
(most of us were too excited to eat properly)
we departed on a 2 hour bus journey to the start of the trek.
The last part of it consisted of a dirt track with endless
hairpins leading to the Ganden monastery perched high up on
of the valley. At first it was all shrouded in mist, so we
but later on the mist cleared revealing golden roofs and a
warren of walkways and buildings too many to count (see
In its heyday (some 60 years ago) it housed 6000 monks, now
is a 'live' monastery with monks going about their normal business not
paying much attention to curious visitors like us. We could take pictures
inside (for a small fee), though it was difficult to get the lighting
right - a camera flash was too weak for the vast rooms and ambient light
not sufficient. Nevertheless I managed to take a picture
of lamas in
real meditation, humming thier mantras, surrounded by hundreds of small
butter lamps. The air was hot and stuffy. There were plenty of pilgrims
in Ganden and most had no minibuses to bring them up here. Many brought
sacks of barley as an offering. In one room a monk presided over a curious
object made of golden fabric and a pile of donated money. The object
turned out to be a slipper of the Dalai Lama. Many pilgrims were touching
their posessions to it. We also saw how the holy scripture is produced.
Wooden blocks with a page of text and drawings cut into them were
stored in a vast 'library' (see
photo). Depending on the
needs some of them were taken off the shelf and printed manually on narrow
strips of rough, brown paper (21" x 4") [see
example here]. After some meditation
of our own we headed for the mountains.
On our way out we passed a group of monks stripping the bark from the
willow timber used for the repairs of the monastery.
sky was overcast with low cloud. We took the lower path, as there was
not much point in taking the higher one hidden in the cloud. Below us
was a valley of muted green with darker patches of barley fields far
the distance (see the photo at the top of this page). The going was easy
and the path well defined, Ganden becoming a smaller and smaller dot
Sure enough, after about half an hour the first snowflakes started appearing,
Snow was not to leave us till the end of the trek. Our
first lunch break was amid large, soft, mushy snowflakes falling
everywhere. We soldiered on into whiter and whiter mist and snow. We
were hiking at about 4,500m (15,000 ft). The first symptoms of altitude
sickness started affecting us. Some had a thumping headache, all had
to stop from time to time to catch their breath. For others (including
stomach was a problem - my breakfast was out in no time! I felt like
I was falling asleep
all the time and marched half-sleeping (lack of oxygen, I suppose), but
when we eventually got lower and I had some dried figs and hot tea I
was awake again. After some 5 hours we came across a little village -
just a few huts scattered around. The locals greeted us with yak butter
tea, which was very welcome (minus the yak bit) and children were immediately
asking for crayons and pencils - a rare treat around here. Luckily we
came well prepared, and Jenny must have had half of her rucksack full
of this sought-after commodity.
reached the camp at 4,100m (13,500 ft) in just under 6 hours from Ganden.
After a day of going through mushy, snowy mud the camp with a fire was
Tents were being erected and hot tea was ready to greet us. Only then
our caravan consited of over 40 yaks and 16 yak drivers, cooks, etc.
How did they get here unnoticed?
my Portrait Gallery of the Tibetans
see more photos visit the Photo-Gallery